ASU psychology and pre-med major Kylie Forbes battles through chronic illness to pursue her dream of helping others
Editor’s note: This is part of a series of profiles for fall 2016 commencement. See more graduates here.
Battling a chronic illness while maintaining a 4.0 GPA is no easy feat. But every day for the past four years when Kylie Forbes crossed the bridge over University Drive, she was reminded that it was all worth it.
“I climbed it every day, even if it was out of my way,” she said. “Standing at the top and gazing out at the palm trees and mountains in the distance, I was always filled with gratitude for the opportunity to be in Arizona and to receive such an excellent education.”
Forbes graduates from ASU this month with a bachelor’s in psychology and pre-med studies. For years, she has faced hardships associated with an undisclosed autoimmune illness, but she never let that stand in the way of her dream to help others who suffer as she has.
She says her current state of health is too poor to take on medical school, but the determined dean's medalist is training at the Southwest Institute of Healing Arts and focusing on "healing and getting my body stronger."
Forbes said she plans to attend Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine in Tempe.
“When you’re passionate enough about something, and you have a clear goal in mind, anything is possible,” she said.
Question: What was your “aha” moment, when you realized you wanted to study the field you majored in?
Answer: I’ve always been fascinated by the complexities of the human mind, so initially, I naturally gravitated toward psychology. However, I decided to pursue a pre-med curriculum in addition to my bachelor’s in psychology because of personal experience with chronic illness. In the depths of my illness, I felt like there was no hope. I had two choices: Give in to the illness, or do something to try to change it.
Not only did I want to help myself, but more importantly, I wanted to prevent others from suffering as I have.
As I began learning organic chemistry, anatomy and physiology, and other pre-med subjects, I realized that the physical/biological sciences were an additional passion of mine, and a career in medicine was my calling.
Sometimes it takes a painful personal experience to inspire an exciting new endeavor.
Q: What’s something you learned while at ASU — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you, that changed your perspective?
A: One interesting thing I learned in the diverse climate at ASU is that everyone is on a unique path.
I met plenty of “non-traditional” students who came back to school at an older age because they realized they weren’t happy with what they were doing with their lives. I met students who were war veterans and decided to further their education to better the lives of their families. I met students of all ages, from all over the world, from all walks of life.
It’s a beautiful thing to see all of these people coming together in the name of education and a brighter future. If you didn’t have the traditional four-year university experience straight out of high school, that’s perfectly OK. If you’re starting over completely, that’s OK, too.
Wherever you are, that’s exactly where you’re supposed to be. Don’t regret the past, just keep moving forward toward your dreams.
Q: Why did you choose ASU?
A: I moved to Arizona from New York with my heart set on a medical school located in Tempe, Arizona. With its main campus in Tempe, ASU was the perfect stepping-stone toward med school.
Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those still in school?
A: Three things: First, follow your heart and your intuition. Whatever subject you’re passionate about, go for it! Don’t let someone else’s idea of what you “should” do dictate the course of your life.
Second, believe in yourself. This may sound clichéd, but the truth is you are your own best advocate. Even if the deck is stacked against you, believe you can do it, and you will.
Third, don’t let any person, any condition or any circumstance hold you back. For many years I have battled a debilitating illness that made my ambitions seem like an impossible feat. Giving up has crossed my mind, but it was never a viable option. Perseverance through the greatest adversity yields the path with the greatest reward.
Q: What are your plans after graduation?
A: Medical school! Specifically, I plan to study in the field of psychoneuroimmunology — the study of the complex mechanisms by which the brain and the body interact. I am fascinated by emerging research in the field, and I hope to play a major role in making future breakthroughs.
I aspire to bring people into balance and wellness in body and mind alike. My personal experience with chronic illness, my empathetic nature, and my love and aptitude for the sciences will help me be the best doctor I can possibly be.
Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?
A: With $40 million, I’m not sure I could limit myself to tackling just one problem. That said, I would definitely use a large portion of the money to implement mindfulness programs for schoolchildren.
Mindfulness programs teach young kids crucial life skills like emotion regulation, compassion, sustained attention and focus, and positive coping mechanisms. These are skills that many kids unfortunately do not learn at home.
Long-term outcomes of mindfulness training in schools include reduced crime, reduced substance abuse, enhanced interpersonal skills, better education and better employment in adulthood.
Mindfulness training also reduces symptoms of depression and other mood disorders. By implementing mindfulness training at an early age, we can create happier, better educated, more productive, more successful, more compassionate people. In turn, we can foster a better world.
I would also use the money to help fund the Human Microbiome Project, a field of research that holds the key to unlocking the mysteries (and potential cures) of many diseases.
Top photo by Anya Magnuson/ASU Now